Our coffee roasting machine was delivered on August 25th, but it took a few days of set-up before it was ready to use. Today was the big day. And a crazy day.
Kelly and I arrived at the store at 8:30 am. We were joined by Jamie Van Dam (our new part-time staff member), Jim Townley and his dad Mel, and Les Kuan, our coffee consultant.
Jim led us through basic start-up procedures and safety. Kelly had to run off for the first hour because he had a conference call for another contract. With the roaster running, the compressor kicking in, Walter and his team grinding and cutting holes in the counter tops, the place was pretty noisy!
Kelly returned from his call just as we were about to do our first bucket of beans. Sandy had the honour of pouring them into the machine. Then it was her turn to sit in the car and take a conference call with one of her clients.
Sandy pouring green beans into the Roastaire
The time from load to completion is under 15 minutes, so you don’t have long to wait once the beans go in.
We were learning about the chemical process of what goes on inside the bean during roasting, in order to create the best flavours. Green beans are dense and hard. They contain a higher moisture content than roasted beans, and in the green state, wouldn’t produce a beverage you would recognize as coffee.
To create the flavours we associate with coffee, we expose the bean to temperatures well over 200 °C. This causes the water in the cellular structure of the bean to “boil” and turn into water vapour, and the organic compounds (sugars and amino acids) in the bean to begin to change, releasing carbon dioxide (an endothermic reaction). These two gases—water vapour and CO2—need to escape the cells of the bean, and when they do, they make a popping or cracking noise. This happens twice in the roasting processes and is referred to as first and second crack. The heat roasts or bakes the sugars in the bean, caramelizing them and releasing the volatile oils that will later be extracted through the brewing process into your cup! How dark the roast gets is dependant on how long you push the roast time past the second crack, when the beans are in a state of pyrolysis, and the reaction has changed from endothermic, to exothermic – where the beans are creating their own heat.
We all took turns at an inaugural pour of green into the machine.
Jamie pours in the green!
Once the beans are drawn up into the roasting chamber, you can hear them tumbling about on their bed of air. Jamie and Sandy stood with their ears as close to the chamber as the heat would allow, trying to listen for the first and second crack.
We had a selection of beans on hand, and roasted beans from Brazil, Costa Rica and Peru. Each has slightly different roast profiles because the environments where they are grown cause the beans to have varying sugar content, moisture and densities.
Every time a roast came out of the hopper we would all gather around to examine it, and the first thing we learned to do was take a bean and chew on it, to explore the flavours! By the end of the day, we were all grinning at each other with brown chunks of coffee bean between our teeth!
Les testing beans at different times during the roast
The machine allows you to pull a few beans from the chamber during the roast, in order to test them. Les set up a bit of a science experiment, pulling beans every few minutes.
At the same time, Jim was giving instructions on how the actual computer components of the machine display information for the roaster on the screen. The sensors display bean activity, and allow the roast-master to determine when first and second crack are occurring and when to shut down the heat and remove the beans from the reaction chamber.
Kelly, Mel, Jamie and Les watch expectantly as the bean profile is displayed on the screen.
Once the beans are “done” they are expelled by a burst of air through a stainless steel tube and into the cooling hopper. From here, you can release them into a bin and get them ready for packaging or consumption. Typically, freshly roasted beans are given a rest period of about 48 hours before they are consumed. During this time gases are still being released from the bean and brewing can get a bit frothy and messy.
Jim releases a fresh batch from the hopper.
Testing coffee is called “cupping”. Cupping is one of the coffee tasting techniques used by cuppers to evaluate coffee aroma and the flavor profile of a coffee. We tried to do some cupping, but we weren’t really set up for it. We had to borrow a kettle from Diane at Muscle Memory, and use a crazy mixture of containers that Les and Jamie scrounged up from their vehicles to pour the cups into! But it kind of worked!
Jim did a fabulous job of carefully explaining and listing the procedures for start-up, maintenance, roasting, and shut-down. Sandy took pages of notes, while Kelly perfected the art of recognizing first and second crack on the computer.
Jim and Kelly watching the computer “real-time” roasting profile.
Mel is the Mater Roaster in Saanichton, and stayed the whole day guiding us through the roast lessons.
Mel and Jamie discuss the roaster.
Jamie proudly shows off beans from his roast!
Kelly takes his turn at pouring in green beans.
Jamie buries his nose in a batch of freshly roasted beans.
Freshly roasted Wood N Frog Coffee! Join us soon for a cup!